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Ken LeVan and LeVan banjos is now part of the Smithsonian Folkways series “North American Banjo Builders”


© LeVan Banjos • LeVan Banjos is a division of LeVan Design, Shunk Pennsylvania

New Vintage™, Tone~Wave™ and SuperWoodie™ are trademarks of LeVan Design     

LeVan Banjos are handmade in the USA from sustainable, non endangered materials.


How a banjo is built is what gives it its power.

A banjo is the sum of its parts. The thing that makes a banjo sound like a banjo instead of a guitar or violin is the stretched head, but there has to be a structure to support and stretch it as well as anchor the neck.  All of these parts are the “guts” of the instrument and all contribute to the tone in some way, some increase volume, some provide tone color, some allow for adjustment, some are just for aesthetics like bindings and inlays. 

When you commission me to make a custom banjo, you get to decide just exactly what it will be made of - the anatomy of it.

Here are a few illustrations of the various parts that make up the banjo, and some of these are discussed in individual pages on this site.

The Pot is the Core of the banjo

I start with the rim, which is laminated in 3 plies with a veneer inside that matches the neck. My favorite rim material is yellow or black birch for the outermost lamination, beech for the inside laminations and the 1/10” veneer inside.

You can read more about rims here

Then I make the tonering, which is either a combination of brass alloys or one of my SuperWoodies™, which are wooden rings with a brass skirt.  I make a number of different kinds, each having its own voice.  My tonerings are unique to my banjos, and not purchased.

More about tonerings

I make the bracket band from a combination of brass alloys and the shoes are brazed on, as opposed to being bolted onto the band or bolted through the rim. 

This makes a clean, solid pot with no bolts inside and no holes drilled through the wall.

The bracket band adds mass and solidity to the pot.

I also make several kinds of armrests, including brass or nickel silver ones or the lightweight wood Tapio™ one shown here.

I make a variety of bracket shoe as well as hook and and nut designs, often specific to a given banjo design

The NewVintage™ Pot

The new Vintage openback banjo comes in two types:  The brass tonering Tone~Wave type, and the SuperWoodie™ type.

The notched tension hoop is made from 360 brass,

The self-skirtedTone~Wave tone ring is made a combination of 260 and 360 brass and produces a very clear sound with great presence.

The SuperWoodie is made with a 260 brass skirt and a baked ipe main body, and produces a sound very similar to the Tone~Wave.

The 3-ply birch/beech rim is extremely rigid and really allows the tone ring and the rest of the banjo to perform.

The SuperWoodie can be made with ball brackets.

Below you can see the extreme horizontal width of the SuperWoodie, which adds considerable stiffness to the assembly, equal to the dual alloy brass, yet weighs a few ounces less